Rating/Warnings: PG for paint of the not-edible variety (sorry guys, I'm getting there, I swear)
Summary: It's the imperfections that give a masterpiece its charms.
AN: why can't I STOP?! So, there's some art involved here, but bear in mind that I can't draw kind of at all. Also, anybody who gets the Wakato joke gets a million points.
These morning classes have to go, Soubi thought to himself as he stepped out of his door. He yawned as he fumbled the door locked and twisted the handle to test it, then began down the stairs, footsteps clanking on the rusty metal. One of these days this things is going to rust right out, Soubi mused, and I'll put my foot through one of these steps and end up…
The thought trailed off as Soubi came around the corner of the landing and found Ritsuka on the bottom step, leaning his head against the railing's support. Fear of the decrepit stairs forgotten, Soubi moved to kneel in front of Ritsuka in a blur of motion, textbooks dropped unceremoniously in the dirt. Ritsuka's ears were folded down tightly, and he refused to lift his gaze from the ground.
"Are you all right?" Soubi asked, already reaching for the cut that stretched from Ritsuka's jaw down over his chin.
"Soubi." Ritsuka's ears flickered in irritation at the stupidity of the question, but he didn't stop Soubi from probing the wound lightly.
"It was too long to cover?" Soubi asked, and Ritsuka gave a minute nod. "So you didn't want to go to school. Oh, Ritsuka."
"I shouldn't've come!" Ritsuka tried to stand, but was scooped up in Soubi's arms before he got any further, and was being carried up the stairs. The fifth stair creaked alarmingly under the weight, but Soubi barely even noticed.
"You left your books," Ritsuka pointed out while Soubi failed utterly to negotiate the door.
"It's okay." The door swung open to reveal a sleep-mussed Youji, wearing worn pajama pants at least six inches too long. "Thank you."
"You woke me up, I just got back to sleep." Youji yawned and peered at Ritsuka. "Oi, brat. Shouldn't you be in school?"
"Shouldn't you?" Soubi asked, edging past Youji, leaving the Zero to pull the door shut.
"Don't be stupid." Youji yawned hugely again, then shuffled back over to the futon he was sharing with Natsuo and flopped down into the next of blankets. When Soubi glanced over at them after setting Ritsuka down on his own bed, Zero was already tangled tightly around one another, a foot and a red ear the only thing visible. One of them was snoring softly.
Ritsuka sat cross-legged on Soubi's bed, staring silently at his feet while Soubi cleaned the cut on his face, and also rewrapped the bandage on his right hand that blood was seeping through. He couldn't keep from pressing a kiss into the bandaged palm.
"Let me see." Ritsuka twisted his hand around to grip Soubi's hand, which still was wrapped lightly although the nail-hole was mostly healed. Soubi didn't protest while Ritsuka carefully peeled away the gauze and cleaned both sides before wrapping it back up.
"We match," Soubi said, lacing his injured hand with Ritsuka's so that their bandages pressed together lightly. "I'm almost as cute as Ritsuka."
"Soubi!" Ritsuka snatched his hand away and scowled, but his ears were no longer pressed tightly back against his scalp. Soubi tweaked one for luck, chuckling, and then got up to make tea.
An hour or so later, Kio slammed the door open to find Ritsuka stretched out on the bed beside Soubi, watching him sketch, their cold mugs set aside on the floor.
"I should've known." Kio thumped Soubi's rather dirty books down on the counter. "Normal people oversleep, but you're too busy running a shelter for strays!"
"Jealous?" Natsuo had struggled from bed finally and appeared behind Kio, who jumped about six inches. Youji stumbled after him, rubbing his eyes.
"No!" Kio snapped, leaving the books on the counter and going over to lean against the windowsill. "Because I'm not a pervert!"
Soubi and Ritsuka exchanged a glance, and Ritsuka wrinkled his nose, making Soubi laugh.
"I wouldn't be laughing if I were you!" Kio crossed his arms and glared at Soubi. "You've already missed three classes!"
"You had class this morning?" Ritsuka demanded. "Soubi, why didn't you say?!"
"It's university," Soubi ruffled the hair between Ritsuka's ears. "I don't have to go to all my classes, so long as I turn my work in."
"Well, you have to go to this one," Kio sniffed. "The model'll only be here today!"
"I'm busy." Soubi smiled at Ritsuka. Behind Kio, Zero made a gagging noise. "Something came up."
"Soubi…" Kio started, but Ritsuka bounced to his knees.
"Soubi!" Ritsuka gave Soubi's shoulder a little shove. "You shouldn't skip your classes! You have to go!"
"And where are you going to go? Home?" Soubi asked coolly, and Ritsuka dropped his eyes. Soubi's expression turned thoughtful. "Would you like to come with me?"
"To class?" Ritsuka's eyes widened, then narrowed suspiciously as he turned to look at Kio. "Can I?"
"Oh sure!" Kio threw his hands in the air. "Why doesn't everybody just come along! You freaks too, the more the merrier!"
"We'll pass, thanks," Natsuo reported. Youji reached up to snap Natsuo's eyepatch elastic playfully.
"It's a studio class," Soubi shrugged, climbing out of bed and offering Ritsuka a hand up. "No one will mind." Ritsuka ignored Soubi's hand and hopped off the bed to get his sneakers.
"I was kidding you know!" Kio exclaimed.
Ritsuka's eyes were huge as he took in the spacious studio. Sunlight streamed in the wide windows that covered an entire wall, pouring warm rays over two dozen easels and pristine canvases. Art students milled about, chattering and mixing paints, gathering brushes and laughing. A male model about the same age as the students was lounging on a stool set up on a platform in the middle of the studio, wearing a silk robe with obviously nothing underneath, and several of the girls were standing in a clot near the platform, whispering and shooting appreciative gazes at him. Ritsuka grabbed for Soubi's hand and pressed closer to him.
"Get a room," Kio grumbled, striding off to claim an easel for Soubi and himself.
"Soubi, are you going to paint him?" Ritsuka asked.
"We all are," Soubi answered, twining his fingers through Ritsuka's.
"Soubi-kun!" a girl with a dark ponytail and jangly hoop earrings came up to Soubi and punched him playfully in the arm. "You skipped class again! Sleeping late as usual?" The girl glanced down and caught sight of Ritsuka. "Oh, how cute! And who are you, sweetie?"
"Er," Ritsuka squeezed Soubi's hand more tightly, and glanced between him and girl shyly. "I'm Aoyagi Ritsuka." Then he shot an irritated glance at Soubi. "As usual, hmm?" Soubi coughed a little.
"Oh, look at your ears!" The girl tweaked one of Ritsuka's ears, making his fur bristle. "So soft! Akiko, come here and see!"
"Ooh!" Another girl's head popped around the side of an easel. "He's so precious! Sakura, look!"
Suddenly Ritsuka found himself enveloped in a cloud of coos and giggles, as the girls in the class surrounded him, leaving behind bewildered male classmates. Ritsuka shot a pleading glance at Soubi, who was laughing too hard to actually help.
The ado was soon noticed by the model, who seemed more than a little put out at the loss of female attention.
"I don't see what's so special about him," he called from the platform, arms crossed. "He's just some kid." When that failed to elicit any response, the model strode down across the studio and elbowed his way into the mass of girls. "Who is he, anyway? Your boyfriend, Agatsuma?"
The model reached to yank one of Ritsuka's ears, but Soubi's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
"You don't want to do that," Soubi said pleasantly.
"Yeah, don't be such a jerk!" One of the girls said, and that was apparently the last straw. Nostrils flaring, the model jerked his hand out of Soubi's grip and stormed from the studio.
"Soubi?" Ritsuka looked up in horror at Soubi. "I shouldn't've come!"
"Oh, it's okay," the first girl soothed, ruffling Ritsuka's hair. "That Wakato is just a big drama queen. He can't go on without a hoard of fangirls."
"All right, class!" a woman with a messy bun and a long, red, swishy skirt swept into the room, clapping her hands together. "Please choose an easel and get to work, you only have this period to complete your masterpieces!" The teacher paused and glanced behind her at the empty stool. "And who would like to tell me what happened to the model? Again? An-chan?"
The dark-haired girl, who'd been trying to sneak to her seat without attracting notice, straightened and began shame-facedly relating the events of the last few minutes.
"And who are we to paint now, hmm?" the teacher inquired, tapping her foot.
"What about Ritsuka?" An suggested. Ears flattening, Ritsuka tried to duck behind Soubi, but the girl turned to him with pleading eyes. "Oh, say you will, Ri-chan! You're so cute, we'd love to paint you!"
"Soubi-kun?" the teacher asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Only if Ritsuka wishes." Soubi reached down to tilt Ritsuka's chin up. "You don't have to, but I would like to paint you too."
"I'll do it," Ritsuka said quietly after a long moment.
"Ritsuka, if you are not sure…" Soubi's hand had dropped to squeeze Ritsuka's shoulder.
"Soubi! I just said I'd do it!"
"You can't wear that though," the teacher said. She had approached while Soubi and Ritsuka were talking, and was now fingering the collar of Ritsuka's shirt. "The color doesn't suit you at all."
Ritsuka thought of the model in just the silk robe and swallowed hard. He turned pleading eyes to Soubi.
"Soubi, I don't have to…?"
"No, of course not, you're a child!" the teacher said briskly, and Soubi's grip loosened just a little. "But, instead, I think…Soubi-kun, may I borrow your shirt?"
Soubi blinked, than began undoing his white button-down shirt with a shrug. Several of the girls catcalled before the sensei shushed them, and Ritsuka giggled when a blush spread across Soubi's nose. The smile disappeared when he realized he'd have to take off his shirt as well to trade, but Soubi held his shirt up around Ritsuka while he stripped his pullover off so that no one could see.
Ritsuka was practically swimming in Soubi's shirt, the tails falling almost to his knees and the cuffs slipping down over his hands, but the teacher pronounced it a success and tugged him towards the platform. Soubi went to sit at the easel next to Kio and took the spare overshirt Kio was handing him. He smiled reassuringly at Ritsuka as he slid the shirt on, leaving it open when it wouldn't quite button across his chest. Ritsuka scowled when the pairs of girls next to Soubi and Kio edged their chairs a little closer.
"I knew it," Kio grumbled as he unscrewed tubes of paint. "I just knew something like this was going to happen. I'm a model, you could be painting my gorgeous body, but noooo."
"There, there, Kio," Soubi pulled an elastic out of his pocket and began tying up his hair. "We've all seen your body, after all."
Ritsuka giggled when he saw Kio stick his tongue out at Soubi, and the teacher, who was arranging the folds of the shirt over the stool, admonished him not to move so much. Some of the girls gave Ritsuka little waves and blew kisses, making Ritsuka blush, while the boys rolled their eyes in disgust.
Once the students all began to concentrate on painting, it wasn't as embarrassing, and Ritsuka began to look around the room a little, reminding himself mentally not to kick his feet. The shirt smelled like Soubi, warm and clean, and Ritsuka's gaze often drifted over to the fighter, watching the way the wisps slipping out of his ponytail brushed his neck. Ritsuka smiled just a little when he caught glints of silver and blue at Soubi's earlobes as he moved.
One of the girls in the front row heaved a sigh like her heart was breaking, and Ritsuka flushed again, tearing his eyes away from Soubi. Instead he occupied himself by watching the rays of sunlight slide across the studio floor, only occasionally sneaking a glance at the way it filtered through wisps of blond.
It didn't seem at all that hours had gone by the time the teacher clapped her hands again and began giving instructions. When the teacher announced that class was over, Ritsuka slid from the stool and hurried down from the platform, trying valiantly to ignore the girls' giggles and 'Thank you, Ri-chan's. He came to a stop between Kio and Soubi, and put his hand to his face in dismay when Kio's painting reminded him of the cut across his face. In all the excitement, he'd forgotten.
"Ritsuka?" Soubi was drawing him close and tugging his chin away from Kio's canvas with his left hand. His paintbrush was still in his right. "Don’t worry, it's the imperfections that give a masterpiece its charm."
Scowling, Ritsuka twisted hands in Soubi's borrowed shirt, the worn blue flannel softer than it looked. He only glanced at Soubi's painting as an afterthought, but then his breath caught in his throat.
"Soubi…" he murmured. "Soubi, I don't look like that."
"Mmm?" Soubi answered without looking at the painting. "People aren't my specialty, you know. Kio's is much better."
"You leave me out of it," Kio grumbled on the other side of Ritsuka, packing up his supplies. "And give me back my shirt before you get pervert on it."
"No, I mean…I don't…" Ritsuka fell silent, too embarrassed to get the words out that there was no way he looked so slender and graceful, so beautiful and sad. "Soubi…" Ritsuka shook his head to clear it, turning away from the painting. "Take your shirt back."
"Ritsuka can keep it," Soubi murmured, smoothing a line on the painting with the side of his index finger, then setting down the paintbrush. Kio threw his hands in the air. "Would you please pull the elastic out of my hair? My hands have paint all over them." Soubi wiggled his fingers in demonstration, then half-turned in his chair so Ritsuka could reach.
Ritsuka blinked, then reached hesitantly up to the band in Soubi's hair. He tugged a little, then held the ponytail tightly with one hand so the hair wouldn't pull when he slid the elastic out with the other. He smoothed Soubi's hair down a little without thinking about what he was doing, lingering over the kink that the elastic had bent into Soubi's hair because it felt strange against his palm. Soubi gave a low 'hmmm', and Ritsuka yanked his hand away.
Ritsuka stopped in front of the painting when it reappeared in Soubi's apartment a week or so later, leaning casually against the wall, and the sun dappling the bare floor made him remember the windows in the studio. He stood staring at the painting for a few minutes, until Soubi noticed and came over to put a hand on his shoulder.
"Sensei finished grading the class's work," he explained, one hand drifting up to brush the pale line that ran over Ritsuka's chin. "She gave them back today."
"What did you get?" Ritsuka asked, eyes still lingering on the painted figure that he still felt bore no more than a passing resemblance to him.
"I got an A for bringing the cutest model."
"Soubi!" Ritsuka knocked Soubi's hand away.
"I got an A," Kio groused from the doorway, hauling through a large plastic bag with him that presumably contained dinner. "You got a B minus because you can't paint lighting for shit, and also because you didn't copy Ritsuka well enough."
"You don't think it looks like me either!" Ritsuka exclaimed in relief. Soubi shook his head with a wry smile.
"What?" Kio set the bags down on the counter with a thump and came over to examine the painting with the other two. "No, it looks exactly like you. I mean, Soubi changed your pose. Look at your hands."
Ritsuka had been so occupied scrutinizing the face and figure, he hadn't even noticed the hands. While posing, Ritsuka had been clutching the edge of the stool between his legs, but in Soubi's painting, his hands were resting on the stool, lightly cupped together as if hiding something.
"It drove sensei crazy trying to figure out what you have him holding," Kio added, shaking his head. "I'm surprised she didn't fail your ass."
As Ritsuka was squinting at the painting, a breeze outside ruffled the leaves that grew near the window, making the light shift across the canvas, and Ritsuka thought he caught just a glimmer of blue and silver between the painted Ritsuka's fingers.
"It's a butterfly," Ritsuka said, then looked up at Soubi with wide eyes. "Isn't it?" Soubi answered by crushing Ritsuka against him in a hug, and Ritsuka struggled half-heartedly. "I can't breathe! Soubi!"
"Geez, always with the butterflies." Kio turned his back to them and went to deal with the food, adding a "you freak" for good measure.